Friday, 24 May 2019

Will Biden’s Dog Whistles For Racism Catch Up With Him?, by Norman Solomon

In a party that officially condemns dog-whistle appeals to racism, Joe Biden is running on Orwellian eggshells. Whether he can win the Democratic presidential nomination may largely depend on the extent of “doublethink” that George Orwell described in 1984 as the willingness “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.”

It is an inconvenient fact that Biden has a political history of blowing into dog whistles for racism. More than ever, the Democratic electorate is repelled by that kind of pitch. If his dog-whistling past becomes a major issue, the former vice president and his defenders will face the challenge of twisting themselves into rhetorical pretzels to deny what is apparent from the video record of Biden oratory on the Senate floor that spanned into the last decade of the 20th century. 

Biden is eager to deflect any prospective attention from his own history of trafficking in white malice and racial division. When he tweeted this week that “our politics today has become so mean and petty -- it traffics in division and our president is the divider in chief,” Biden was executing a high jump over the despicably low standards set by Donald Trump. 

A key question remains: Does it matter that Biden was a shrill purveyor of tropes, racist stereotypes and legislation aimed at African-Americans? During pivotal moments in the history of race relations in this country, from the 1970s to the 1990s, Biden’s hot air manifested as pitches to white racism.  From the outset of his career on Capitol Hill, he even stooped to reaching out to some of the worst segregationist senators from the South to advance his legislative agenda against busing.

As Adolph Reed and Cornel West noted this month in The Guardian, Biden began his racially laced approach to lawmaking soon after arrival in the Senate, when he “earned sharp criticism from both the NAACP and ACLU in the 1970s for his aggressive opposition to school busing as a tool for achieving school desegregation.” 

That was no fluke. “In 1984,” Reed and West recount, Biden “joined with South Carolina’s arch-racist Strom Thurmond to sponsor the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which eliminated parole for federal prisoners and limited the amount of time sentences could be reduced for good behavior. He and Thurmond joined hands to push 1986 and 1988 drug enforcement legislation that created the nefarious sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine as well as other draconian measures that implicate him as one of the initiators of what became mass incarceration.” 

It's likely that no lawmaker did more to bring about the mass incarceration of black people during recent decades than Joe Biden. In an understated account last week, The Hill newspaper reported that Senator Biden “was instrumental in pushing for the [1994] crime bill, which critics have said led to a spike in incarceration, particularly among African Americans.”  Yet Biden is now eager to project an image as a longtime ally of people of color.

In short, journalists Kevin Gosztola and Brian Sonenstein wrote recently, he is in a race between his actual past and his PR baloney. As the leading advocate for what became the infamous 1994 crime bill, Biden stood on the Senate floor and declared: 

“We must take back the streets. It doesn't matter whether or not the person that is accosting your son or daughter or my son or daughter, my wife, your husband, my mother, your parents, it doesn't matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth. It doesn't matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn't matter whether or not they're the victims of society. The end result is they're about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.”

And Biden proclaimed with fervor that echoed right-wing dogma: “I don't care why someone is a malefactor in society. I don't care why someone is antisocial. I don't care why they've become a sociopath. We have an obligation to cordon them off from the rest of society.” 

Paste writer Shane Ryan pointed out the unsubtle subtexts of Biden’s speechifying: “This is the language of demonization, and even without the underlying racial element, it would be offensive to describe Americans this way, and to brush aside the societal conditions that lead to violent crime as though they're irrelevant. But, of course, the racial element is not just present, but profound. It's impossible to read these remarks, complete with dehumanizing rhetoric, without coming to the conclusion that Biden is, in fact, talking about black crime.” 

At the time, even some of the members of Congress who ended up voting for the crime bill loudly warned about its dangerous downsides. One of them was Bernie Sanders (who I actively support in his run for president). While swayed by inclusion of the Violence Against Women Act in the bill, Sanders said in an April 1994 speech on the House floor: 

“A society which neglects, which oppresses and which disdains a very significant part of its population -- which leaves them hungry, impoverished, unemployed, uneducated, and utterly without hope -- will, through cause and effect, create a population which is bitter, which is angry, which is violent, and a society which is crime-ridden. And that is the case in America, and it is the case in other countries throughout the world.”

In 2016, Biden was continuing to defend his key role in passage of the landmark crime bill. During recent months, gearing up for his current campaign, Biden acknowledged some of the law’s negative effects while still defending it and denying its huge impacts for mass incarceration. And Biden has avoided copping to -- much less expressing remorse for -- the toxic, racially laced rhetoric that he used to promote the bill. He simply refuses to renounce the Senate-floor oratory that he deployed to propel the legislation to President Clinton’s desk. 

Unfortunately for Biden, online video is available that conveys not only his words but also the audibly arrogant tone with which he delivered them. What does all this add up to? Anyone who doubts that Biden methodically mined racist political shafts for decades should read the well-documented New York magazine piece “Will Black Voters Still Love Biden When They Remember Who He Was?” It’s devastating.

The New York article, by journalist Eric Levitz, begins with the tip of a very cold white iceberg: “Biden once called state-mandated school integration ‘the most racist concept you can come up with,’ and Barack Obama ‘the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean.’ He was a staunch opponent of ‘forced busing’ in the 1970s, and leading crusader for mass incarceration throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Uncle Joe has described African-American felons as ‘predators’ too sociopathic to rehabilitate -- and white supremacist senators as his friends.”

Such clear overviews of Biden’s racial behavior in politics have been rare. And news media have not illuminated what all this has to do with “electability.” Turnout from the Democratic Party’s base will be crucial to whether Trump can be defeated in November 2020. Biden’s record of dog-whistling is made to order for depressing enthusiasm and turnout from that base, especially among African Americans. 

Apt to be a big political liability among voters who normally vote Democratic in large numbers, Joe Biden’s historic dog-whistling for racism is an incontrovertible reality. Denial of that reality could help him win the party’s nomination -- and then help Donald Trump get re-elected.
________________________________
Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Joe Biden Likes Republicans So Much Because He’s So Much Like Them, by Norman Solomon

Recent criticism of Joe Biden for praising Dick Cheney as “a decent man” and Mike Pence as “a decent guy” merely scratches the surface of what’s wrong with the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

His compulsion to vouch for the decency of Republican leaders -- while calling Donald Trump an “aberration” -- is consistent with Biden’s political record. It sheds light on why he’s probably the worst Democrat running for president. 

After several decades of cutting corporate-friendly deals with GOP legislators -- often betraying the interests of core Democratic constituencies in the process -- Biden has a big psychological and political stake in denying that the entire GOP agenda is repugnant. 

At the outset of his Senate career, Biden lost no time appealing to racism and running interference for huge corporate interests. He went on to play a historic role in helping to move the Supreme Court rightward and serving such predatory businesses as credit card companies, big banks and hedge funds. 

Biden’s role as vice president included a near-miss at cutting a deal with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill to slash Medicare and Social Security. While his record on labor and trade has been mediocre, Biden has enjoyed tight mutual alliances with moneyed elites. 

The nickname that corporate media have bestowed on him, “Lunch Bucket Joe,” is wide of the mark. A bull’s-eye is “Wall Street Joe.” 

With avuncular style, Biden has reflexively used pleasant rhetoric to grease the shaft given to millions of vulnerable people, suffering the consequences of his conciliatory approach to right-wing forces. 

Campaigning in Iowa a few days ago, Biden declared that “the other side is not my enemy, it’s my opposition.” But his notable kinship with Republican politicians has made him more of an enabler than an opponent. Results have often been disastrous. 

“In more than four decades of public service, Biden has enthusiastically championed policies favored by financial elites, forging alliances with Wall Street and the political right to notch legislative victories that ran counter to the populist ideas that now animate his party,” HuffPost senior reporter Zach Carter recounts. 

Biden often teamed up with Senate Republicans to pass bills at the top of corporate wish lists and to block measures for economic fairness. In the mid-1970s, during his first Senate term, Biden repeatedly clashed with Sen. Edward Kennedy, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, who wanted to rein in runaway corporate power.

“Biden became an advocate for corporate interests that had previously been associated with the Republican Party,” Carter reports. As he gained seniority, Biden kept lining up with GOP senators against antitrust legislation and for bills to give corporations more leverage over consumers and workers. 

“By 1978, Americans for Democratic Action, the preeminent liberal watchdog group of the time, gave Biden a score of just 50, lower than its ratings for some Republicans.” Opposing measures for racial equity and economic justice, Biden’s operational bonds with GOP leaders continued. 

Carter reports that “on domestic policy -- from school integration to tax policy -- he was functionally allied with the Reagan administration. He voted for a landmark Reagan tax bill that slashed the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and exempted many wealthy families from the estate tax on unearned inheritances, a measure that cost the federal government an estimated $83 billion in annual revenue. He then called for a spending freeze on Social Security in order to reduce the deficits that tax law helped to create.” 

Biden came through for corporate power again in November 1993 when he joined with 26 other Democrats and 34 Republicans to win Senate passage of NAFTA, the trade agreement strongly opposed by labor unions and environmental groups. 

In mid-1996, when Congress approved President Clinton’s “welfare reform” bill, Biden helped to vote the draconian measure into law. It predictably had devastating effects on women and children. 

Throughout the 1990s -- from tax-rate changes that enriched the already-rich to deregulating banks with repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to loosening government curbs on credit default swaps -- Biden stood with the Senate’s Republicans and the most corporate-aligned Democrats. 

Carter sums up: “Biden was a steadfast supporter of an economic agenda that caused economic inequality to skyrocket during the Clinton years. . . . Biden voted for all of it.” Biden led the successful push to pass the milestone 1994 crime bill, engaging in racist tropes on the Senate floor along the way. 

By then, he had become a powerful lawmaker on criminal-justice issues. In 1991, midway through his eight years as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden ran the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas that excluded witnesses who were prepared to corroborate Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment.

“Much of what Democrats blame Republicans for was enabled, quite literally, by Biden: Justices whose confirmation to the Supreme Court he rubber-stamped worked to disembowel affirmative action, collective bargaining rights, reproductive rights, voting rights,” feminist author Rebecca Traister writes. 

Early in the new century, Biden wielded another weighty gavel, with momentous results, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 2002, congressional Democrats were closely divided on whether to greenlight the invasion of Iraq, while Republicans overwhelmingly backed President George W. Bush’s mendacious case for invading. 

Biden didn’t only vote for the Iraq invasion on the Senate floor in October 2002. Months earlier, he methodically excluded dissenting voices about the looming invasion at key hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee. 

While his impact on foreign policy grew larger, Biden’s avid service to financial giants never flagged. One of his top priorities was a crusade for legislation to undermine bankruptcy protections. Biden was a mover and shaker behind the landmark 2005 bankruptcy bill. Before President Bush signed it into law, Biden was one of just 14 out of 45 Democratic senators to vote for the legislation. 

The bankruptcy law was a monumental victory for credit-card firms -- and a huge blow to consumers, including students saddled with debt. As happened so often during Biden’s 36 years in the Senate, he eagerly aligned himself with Republicans and a minority of Democrats to get the job done. 

Now, running for president, Biden has no use for candor about his actual record. Instead, he keeps pretending that he has always been a champion of people he actually used his power to grievously harm. 

In ideology and record on corporate power, the farthest from Biden among his competitors is Bernie Sanders. No wonder Biden has gone out of his way to distance himself from Sanders while voicing high regard for the wealthy. (I was a Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and continue to actively support him.) 

Biden’s ongoing zeal to defend and accommodate Republicans in Congress is undiminished, as though they should not be held accountable for President Trump even while they aid and abet him. Days ago on the campaign trail -- while referring to Trump -- Biden asserted: “This is not the Republican Party.” And he spoke warmly of “my Republican friends in the House and Senate.” 

All in all, it’s preposterous yet fitting for Joe Biden to claim that Republicans like Dick Cheney and Mike Pence are “decent.” He’s not only defending them. He’s also defending himself.
________________________________
Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Putting Social Class into the History of Classics, by Edith Hall

Classics, the study of the languages and civilisation of ancient Greece and Rome, is usually assumed to have functioned historically as the curriculum of the British elite. 

A People’s History of Classics: Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain, which I have just finished preparing with my co-author Henry Stead, is the first substantial enquiry into the presence of ancient Greek and Roman culture in British working-class communities ever to have been conducted.

It alters our understanding of the history of Classics irrevocably by examining evidence for the diverse working-class experience of the classical world between the Act of Union in 1689 and the outbreak of WWII. 

The evidence includes autobiographies, poetry, fiction, visual and material culture in museums, galleries and the civic environment, theatrical ephemera, records of Trade Union activities, self-education publications, mass-market inexpensive ‘classic’ series, archives relating to Poor, Free, Workers’, Adult and Dissenting educational establishments, and to political parties which supported the working class. 

The book asks how workers gained access to classical texts, ideas and materials, and how the contact affected their lives and attitudes. Although there was a significant amount of working-class engagement with the ancient Greeks and Romans, most of which has hitherto been overlooked, it was often hard won. 

The time-consuming study of the Greek and Latin languages was adopted as the core of ‘Classics’, the education of the newly redefined British ‘gentleman’, at the dawn of the 18th century, whether his fees were paid by landed estates or commerce. It symbolised his fitness for a profession, a marriage into the gentry, a career in prestigious educational institutions or government, or advancement in the civil or colonial services. 

By the end of the second decade of the 18th century, the battle-lines which still shape debates over Classics had been drawn up. Britons who were unable or unwilling to bankroll their sons’ classical educations fought back.

The Greeks and Romans could be approached by other routes which did not require years glued to grammars and dictionaries. They could increasingly be read in mother-tongue translations, by great poets like Dryden and Pope, even though this was obviously derided as a vulgar mode of access to the Classics by those who had purchased the linguistic training. The material covered in ancient authors could be enjoyed even by the completely illiterate in accessible entertainments such as fairground shows. 

We ask what Classics-related cultural media and literary genres were accessed, and in turn used as vehicles, by working-class subjects. In the 18th century, some autodidacts in lowly occupations succeeded in learning classical languages against the odds, while others accessed classical authors via increasingly abundant translations. 

In the 19th century, widening literacy and inexpensive literature, especially the many educational publications of John Cassell, expanded access to Classics exponentially.

Although Homer, Virgil and Caesar were universally popular, the authors prioritised by working-class readers differed from those read in expensive schools and elite colleges: the Greek New Testament, Aesop, Plutarch, Epictetus, Josephus, Plato and Livy, and a particular canon of historians of antiquity (e.g. Rollin, Gibbon, Osborne Ward) recurs on working-class reading-lists. 

Labouring-class poets, both male and female, such as Stephen Duck and Mary Collier, published collections which display knowledge of classical forebears; some use it to flatter their rich patrons and others to challenge social injustice. 

Life-writing by workers reveals a similar gulf between those who embraced what they perceived as their escape from their natal class and those who never ceased to work in its cause; what unites many working-class autobiographies is a youthful encounter with Classics which transforms the subject’s life trajectory, whether by inspiring a programme of self-education or by proving to him (and almost all the 19th-century worker-autobiographers are male) the extent of his educational deprivation. 

Until the later 19th century, a large proportion of the British working class, especially women, remained illiterate. The book explores their engagement with visual media which informed them about classical culture—the windows of print shops, aristocratic and civic architecture and internal decoration, museums, spectacles and illustrated educational periodicals. 

Since drawing, painted decoration and modelling often attracted apprentices from impoverished backgrounds, the visual understanding of sites such as Pompeii and the Athenian Acropolis was often provided by originally working-class men. 

Theatrical performances provided another route to the classical world, although the censorship of stage plays limited the use of rousing ancient stories in plays exploring the iniquities of the class system. The case of a censored tragedy about the Gracchi produced just before and after Peterloo provides a vivid example. 

Contact with Classics varied between different communities, so we also explore religious identity, adult educational groups, and the national experiences in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Dissenters of all denominations were crucial in making classical authors available to Britons across the lower end of the class spectrum. 

Dissenters also often led major educational initiatives offering opportunities to the working classes to study subjects including Classics: Mutual Improvement Societies, Adult Schools, Mechanics Institutes, University Extension schemes, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and the Labour Colleges. 

The relationship between the Irish and the Greco-Roman world was intense, as their literature in both Gaelic and English reveals. Competence in Latin was fostered across even some of the lowest classes by Roman Catholicism and informal education at ‘hedge schools’.

But political allegiances were complicated; along with classically skilled Irish working-class Catholics, who supported Irish rebellion, some ardently opposed it. Two radical Irish classicists campaigning in the interests of the Irish working classes were Protestants; Robert Tressell, author of the Plato-influenced working-class novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914), was of mixed religious parentage. 

In Scotland, the proud tradition of the ‘lad o’ pairts’ boasts a longstanding reputation for good working-class education. There were indeed remarkable resources for studying and teaching the Classics in the counties around Aberdeen, which furnished hundreds of educated men to work in the furthest outposts of the British Empire; cheap and popular publishing ventures were founded by Scotsmen, especially the Chambers brothers; two of the most important books in British Labour History were Thomas Carlyle’s classically informed Past and Present and Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Spartacus

Wales had a distinct Nonconformist tradition of classical education, but it also had Caractacus, the ancient British leader who, according to Tacitus, had fought against the ancient Romans in Wales and was paired in the public imagination with David Lloyd-George. There was an Edwardian craze in Wales for amateur theatrical performances by school children starring Caractacus, and once WWI broke out, they became transparently connected with recruitment, morale and fund-raising for the war effort. 

Individual working-class subjects teetering on or below the edge of respectability are put at the centre of the radar.. Between the French revolution and the collapse of the Chartist movement, diverse British radicals—republican revolutionaries of the 1790s, men incarcerated for sedition in the aftermath of Peterloo, Chartists, workplace organisers and freethinkers, some working-class and some from more prosperous backgrounds—were motivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They used Classics to enliven their journalism, inform arguments at the trials, and explore religious questions that took them far beyond the limits of Anglican theology. 

A few outstanding autodidacts harnessed Classics to assist a meteoric rise to university chairs, where most of them relinquished class anger to become quietist professionals. The attempts of other extraordinary working-class boys to escape poverty by self-education never quite got off the ground; some ended their days as itinerants, alcoholics, or suffering from acute mental disorders. 

The aura surrounding the ancient cultures did not signify gentlemanliness and financial security everywhere. Alongside the gentry enjoying their Palladian mansions and expensive school curriculums, there always existed more commercial, demotic, subterranean and secretive groups in British society who used imagery from the Greek and Roman worlds to communicate and self-identify: salesmen, imposters, criminals, prostitutes, circus and fairground performers, showgirls, libertines, madmen, and participants in recreational activities ranging from the merely vulgar to the illegal. 

Ancient Greek appeared in a variety of recherch√© contexts such as accusations of witchcraft, caricatures of Jesuits, the slang dialects of the criminal underclass, the display of prodigiously intellectual dogs and pigs, fairground freaks including satyrs and centaurs, the lives of notoriously uncouth Scotsmen, Welsh dream divination and down-market pharmaceuticals and sex manuals. A few classicists unambiguously joined the underclass in being convicted of violent crimes and/or confined in asylums. 

Most beauty and strength performers in the long nineteenth century—dancers, actresses, strongmen, contortionists, strongwomen, wrestlers, boxers, novelty performers, artists’ models and posers of all kinds—used draped fabric, leather straps and bared flesh to identify their acts with Greco-Roman antiquity. They almost always came from working-class families. 

Finally, we also examine the presence of classical material in other working lives. The figures from antiquity with whom the working classes identified, or were identified with by others, were male martyrs, rebels, slaves and labourers, largely distinct from the heroes and gods instrumentalised by those higher up the social scale, such as Alexander, Aeneas, Augustus, Jove and Juno, Leto, Apollo, Diana, Venus and Mars. 

Sources including workers’ newspapers and Trade Union art show that workers identified with Aesop, both Brutuses, the Gracchi, Solon, Caractacus, Boadicea, Spartacus, Prometheus, Vulcan, Hercules’ labours, Atlas, the Cyclopes, and Neptune. Hercules and Atlas were violently contested, being used to symbolise both ruling-class/imperial dominion and the physical power of the proletariat. 

Shoemakers, often radical Nonconformists, although sometimes espousing conservative views, were well-read and conversant with classical authors, inspired by the examples of learned cobblers they found in ancient sources. Pottery workers were familiar with ancient artefacts and with books visually reproducing and discussing them. Miners, especially in Scotland and Wales, enjoyed some of the best workers’ libraries, well stocked with Classics, in the nation. 

As working-class activism increased with the rise of Labour Movement, classically self-educated professional politicians rose from the working classes, and their cause was espoused by newly university-trained socialist women, the academic Classicists who joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, and classically trained fulltime activists and intellectuals such as Christopher Caudwell and Jack Lindsay. 

Accessing the experience of working-class soldiers is exceptionally difficult, but one War Poet, David Jones, was not of officer rank. His neglected epic prose poem In Parenthesis (1937) forged a radically new Classicism, Modernist form and demotic language for the representation of the common soldier’s subjective experience of the trenches, which are prefigured by the frontier walls of the Roman empire. 

A People’s History of Classics closes with the class-conscious and sophisticated classical theatre pioneered by Theatre Workshop, founded by the working-class communist theatre-makers Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl, who used Greek drama to fight the cultural wars of the 1930s for the rights of the working classes. 

The British working classes were almost universally excluded from institutionalized Classics, and from study of ancient languages, but a few overcame the obstacles; many more engaged with the ancient Greeks and Romans in myriad creative ways. 

The classical world aided their careers, expanded their horizons, improved their rhetoric, informed their politics, alleviated their boredom, inspired them to read, write, paint, draw, sculpt, act, perform, teach, publish, organize Trade Unions, join debating societies, read the Gospels in the original or question the existence of God altogether. 

They used Classics to prove their intellectual calibre, to express their plight and signal their consciousness of the class system; they also used it to subvert and undermine the authority of the classes that ruled them and to entertain themselves during leisure hours. 

The heroes of People’s Classics were gardeners, stonemasons, circus acrobats, factory operatives, engravers, cutlers, domestic servants, brewers, weavers, tramps, beggars, prisoners, thieves, inmates of mental hospitals, plasterers, painter-decorators, cabin-boys, milkmaids, washerwomen, wool-sorters, drummers, butchers, grocers, mechanics, carpenters, errand-boys, tailors, pill-sellers, janitors, porters, dockers, hatters, fishermen, sailors, comb-makers, bakers, bricklayers, navvies, shepherds, threshers and grave-diggers. 

They deserve honoured places in the gallery of People’s Classics simply because they struggled so hard to get access to the ancient world. But they also offer us a new ancestral backstory for a discipline sorely in need of a democratic makeover.

Edith Hall is Professor in the Department of Classics and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s College, London. A People’s History of Classics will be published both in print, and as an e-book entirely free, on the Routledge Taylor Francis platform in November 2019. The cover image is the banner of the Lanchester miners.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Why So Many Journalists Are Clueless About The Bernie 2020 Campaign, by Norman Solomon

They don’t get it. 

Mainstream journalists routinely ignore the essential core of the Bernie 2020 campaign. As far as they’re concerned, when Bernie Sanders talks about the crucial importance of grassroots organizing, he might as well be speaking in tongues. 

Frequently using the word “unprecedented” -- in phrases like “our unprecedented grassroots effort to take on the powerful special interests and billionaire class” -- Sanders emphasizes the vast extent of organizing necessary for him to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency next year. For an extraordinary campaign, that could be attainable. For mainline media, it’s virtually inconceivable. 

The conformist political reporters are akin to inept topside oceanographers who stay away from the depths while scrutinizing the surface and speculating on future waves. Time and again, the sea changes that come from below take them by surprise.

Four years ago, the media wisdom was that the 2016 Sanders campaign would scarcely get out of single digits. Media savants dismissed him -- and the political program that he championed -- as fringe. In timeworn fashion, when reporters and pundits made reference to any policy issues, the context was usually horseracing, which is what most campaign coverage boils down to.

Yet policy issues -- and the passions they tap into -- are central to what propels the Sanders 2020 campaign, along with the powerful fuel of wide recognition that Bernie Sanders has not bent to the winds of expediency. That goes a long way toward explaining the strength of his current campaign. 

Sanders has retained the enthusiastic support of a big majority of his delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Last winter, when more than 400 of those delegates participated in a vote on whether to revive the independent Bernie Delegates Network, 95 percent said yes. (I’m a coordinator of the relaunched network.) 

Unlike his “evolving” rivals who have blown hither and yon with political gusts, Sanders is not a wind sock. During 38 years as an elected official, he has remained part of progressive social movements to change the direction of prevailing winds. That orientation continues to inform his approach to elections.

“At the end of the day,” Sanders told a New York Times reporter in late April, “I believe now -- and I’ve always believed -- that grassroots activism is more important and more effective than 30-second television ads.” Such an outlook has been a perplexing concept for many political reporters, who routinely see the bottom-up activism of social movements as distinctly minor compared to the top-down mechanisms and poll-driven strategies that can boost a campaign to victory.

Right now, the conventional media wisdom is gaga over Joe Biden’s big lift in national polls since he announced for president a week ago. The former vice president was barely ahead of Sanders in polling before he formally threw his hat in the ring on April 25. The normal upward spike after a major candidate’s formal announcement rollout was made spikier by the lavish and largely reverential coverage from the many journalists who seem quite fond of him.

Retrospective looks at his treatment of Anita Hill during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas that he chaired in 1991 caused Biden some bad media moments during the last week. But -- surprise! -- he got little corporate media flak for his high-dollar campaign kickoff fundraiser hosted by top executives at Comcast and Blue Cross, which epitomized his flagrant embrace of corporate power throughout a long political career.

“It is not remarkable in the least for Joe Biden to come right out of the gate by filling his coffers with money from telecom and health insurance executives,” Hamilton Nolan wrote for the Guardian. “Who is going to tell him that he shouldn’t? The lobbyists advising his campaign? The zillionaire media executives feting him in a Hollywood mansion? The superstructure of Obama administration functionaries who see him as the most established of the establishment brand names? For the people who matter, Joe Biden is doing just what he is expected to do.”

As he tries to gain support from liberal voters, Biden is benefiting from the ties that bind him to corporate power. So, he can be grateful that -- as the media watch group FAIR has reported -- the Comcast-owned MSNBC quickly showed itself to be “in the tank for Joe Biden’s presidential run.” 

It’s likely that the Biden balloon will lose altitude as the burst of hot-air publicity fades -- and as more information about his actual record comes to wider light. Biden vs. Bernie offers a huge contrast between a corporatist whose biggest constituencies can be found on Wall Street and in corporate media vs. a progressive populist whose biggest constituencies can be found among those being ripped off by Wall Street and discounted by corporate media.

While there’s a journalistic spirit of tolerance toward Biden on such matters as his vile Senate record of pandering to racism and his more recent indications of openness toward cutting Social Security and Medicare, corporate media are overall far more negative toward what Bernie Sanders has done and continues to advocate.

For instance, this sentence from the speech that Sanders gave for the launch of his campaign a few weeks ago at Brooklyn College conveys a bit of what is antithetical to the assumptions of many in mainstream media: “Today, we say to the military-industrial-complex that we will not continue to spend $700 billion a year on the military -- more than the next 10 nations combined. We’re going to invest in affordable housing, we’re going to invest in public education, we’re going to invest in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure -- not more nuclear weapons and never-ending wars.” 

And Sanders’ next words also went against the grain of mainstream political assumptions. “Brothers and sisters: We’re going to win this election not because we have a super PAC funded by billionaires. We’re going to win this election because we will put together the strongest grassroots coalition in the history of American politics.”

A notable step toward the “unprecedented” goal came last Saturday, when about 5,000 house parties and other gatherings watched a video that featured talks from Sanders and campaign leaders who were both inspirational and practical, encouraging supporters to do methodical outreach in local communities. The process is now being aided by the campaign’s just-unveiled organizing app called Bern.

The elite-oriented atmosphere of media aversion to Sanders is in sync with media disregard for the power of community-based activism that could result in a Sanders presidency. For the establishment press corps, the idea of grassroots progressive populism as a pathway to the White House is very strange. But for people who want genuine progressive change, it’s the only path.
________________________________
Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.